US Foods Shares Recipe for Green Success
San Francisco Division Wins First StopWaste Business Mentor Award
US Foods, one of the nation’s largest foodservice distributors, demonstrates that systematically reducing a company’s environmental footprint can result in significant savings and a competitive advantage. Their San Francisco Division, based in Livermore, recycles cardboard, paper, shrink-wrap and other materials, and is progressively designing waste out of their operations with reusable instead of disposable packaging.
Recycling efforts alone save the facility over $90,000 annually in avoided disposal costs and recycling revenue. In addition, the division recycles water from refrigeration units, runs its fleet of delivery trucks on a biodiesel blend, has slashed electricity consumption by 37% and supplies over a third of the facility’s remaining energy needs with its own 1MW solar array.
But US Foods’ commitment to sustainability doesn’t stop here. Their Livermore location actively works with vendors and customers to help them green their own operations, too. This has earned the company the 2011 StopWaste Business Mentor Award from local public agency StopWaste, whose staff has supported US Foods in their waste reduction efforts since 2006.
US Foods is one of 11 Alameda County organizations honored by StopWaste for outstanding achievements in waste reduction and environmental performance. They are the first to receive the Mentor Award, a new category added to the 12-year-old recognition program this year. The awards were presented during a ceremony at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center on October 28.
Chuck Brown, Director of Safety, Security & Facilities at the Livermore location, has championed the green efforts since US Foods started working with StopWaste. “I knew all along that going green wasn’t only the right thing to do, but also a financially lucrative business decision,” states Brown. “The challenge was to set it up right and get employee buy-in. That takes time.” To help the company over those initial hurdles, the StopWaste technical team worked with Brown to identify recycling vendors for key materials and supported the purchase of recycling bins with a $5,000 grant. They also assisted in the development of Standard Operating Procedures to roll out the new recycling practices division-wide.
The changes produced a substantial return on investment almost immediately. Brown sums up: “Instead of paying the garbage company to haul away our cardboard, paper and shrink wrap, we are now separating those materials from the trash and selling them to a recycler.” In addition, the efforts earned the Livermore facility Green Business Certification — and a competitive advantage. “In this day and age, it’s not enough to deliver on price and product or service alone. Customers want their vendors to be environmentally conscious, too. In fact, some of our clients make it a requirement,” explains Brown. The company has not only responded to this trend, but has made the greening of its operations an integral part of their business model and marketing strategy.
Keys to Success
In 2006 US Foods issued a corporate directive requiring each division to record and reduce its operations’ environmental footprint. Metrics included refuse and recycling tonnages, water and electricity usage, fuel consumption and mileage. Each is measured weekly and tracked for performance against the company’s benchmarks of Operational Excellence. Management support, frequent feedback and employee engagement are crucial factors in this effort. The company’s “Great Ideas” program encourages suggestions for operational improvements from employees on all levels and in all departments. “You’ve got to have your associates on board and excited about the goals,” asserts Brown. “A few years ago we had a corporate contest to see which division could most reduce their energy usage, and our Livermore facility won.”
Outreach to Vendors and Customers
As a “broad-line” foodservice distributor, US Foods delivers more than food items. The company also distributes dishware, packaging and culinary equipment like refrigeration units and cooking ranges. This makes them a natural resource for information on environmentally preferable products, energy-efficient equipment and best practices in the industry. US Foods trains its associates to advise customers individually on opportunities to reduce waste, water and energy usage. At the San Francisco Division’s annual Food Show, a prominently placed “Green Booth” invites current and potential vendors and customers to learn about locally available programs and resources, including StopWaste’s business assistance program, PG&E’s Restaurant Technology Center and the Bay Area Green Business Program.
The Livermore facility’s proactive outreach has caught the industry’s attention on a national level, too. In 2010 US Foods was invited to present on business greening strategies at the Annual Food Safety Summit in Washington, D.C.
The Next Frontier
US Foods’ most recent greening endeavor tackles discards from transport packaging, such as broken wood pallets and used shrink-wrap, in an effort to prevent waste before it happens. “Sure we can recycle these materials, but it’s even more effective to design that waste right out of our process,” notes Brown. Using funds from the sale of recyclables, he and his team have replaced 2,500 limited-use wood pallets with durable, reusable plastic pallets. Eventually they aim to convert all of the 5,000 pallets currently in circulation. In the meantime, employees repair damaged wood pallets on-site.
The company is also looking to reduce the amount of shrink-wrap used to secure products on pallets during transit and warehousing. Along with several other US Foods facilities in the country, the San Francisco Division is piloting thick rubber bands, long enough to fit around a pallet up to 4 feet by 4 feet. “It’s looking pretty good so far,” comments Brown. “If we replace shrink-wrap with these reusable rubber bands, we can save some 50 tons of plastic film per year.”
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